The Little Shaman is a spiritual coach & specialist in cluster B personality disorders, with a popular YouTube show and clients worldwide.
Dealing with narcissistic people is traumatic on many levels: mentally, emotionally, sometimes physically and even sexually. Personal or intimate relationships of any kind with this type of person are usually very inconsistent. There is love bombing, followed by abuse, followed by more love bombing followed by more abuse. This cycle may continue for years. This type of repetitive inconsistency often results in what is called a trauma bond.
When we become upset or stressed, such as when we are angry, our body starts dumping chemicals into our system like adrenaline, cortisol and endorphins. In a relationship like the kind experienced with most pathologically narcissistic people, these hormones are triggered frequently. In most abusive relationships, after the abuse there is usually a period of idealization and good times. During these times, the body also dumps chemicals into our system, such as dopamine and more endorphins. Over time, the body starts to become habituated and even dependent after a fashion on this cycle and the resulting chemicals, like an addiction. This cycle is called an "arousal-jag." The habituation to this cycle and the trauma bonds you to the abuser, making it very difficult to leave the relationship, even when you don't love or even like the person anymore. Trauma bonds should not be underestimated. They are powerful and take time and deliberate action to break, like any other addiction.
The important thing to remember is that it is an addiction to the cycle, not the person. For whatever reason, at some point in your life you probably became enmeshed in a trauma bond and have now become susceptible to them. Maybe you had a trauma bond with a parent. Maybe the narcissist you're having trouble with right now is your parent. Addiction creates new pathways in the brain and it is likely that the addiction to the drama cycle - and therefore the narcissist - is no different. That pathway will always be there, and if something triggers it, it can become a problem again. This is why for example, people who have narcissistic parents end up in narcissistic marriages. This is the path they know.
Think of these neural pathways in your brain as like a trail in the woods. When you first start using a trail, it's rough going. It's not defined, there are weeds and rocks and things everywhere. The more you use the trail, the easier it will become to use. It gets smoother. It gets more compact. It becomes your preferred pathway, because it's the one you are the most used to using. This is what happens during addiction. The path has been created and you are walking it every day. When the drug is removed from the equation, such as when you leave the narcissistic person and are not engaged in the drama cycle anymore, you are trying to carve out a different path. And it's hard. You've got your machete out and you're cutting away at the vines and the thorns, but man, it just seems like you're getting nowhere.
You are. Our brains are extremely adaptable. They can adapt to almost anything we throw at them, and though it doesn't happen right away, your brain will adapt to the new pathway you are building. Just like any other addiction or habit, it takes time to create a new way of doing things. Until this is addressed, people will often find themselves in the same kind of relationship over and over again. Addiction to the drama cycle can create a situation where a person is unable to feel satisfied or fulfilled by a relationship unless there is drama involved. They can feel bored or unloved in "normal" or non-abusive relationships where there is no arousal-jag. This is of course unhealthy and damaging, so addressing the addiction to drama - and the reasons behind it - are very important.
There are some videos on this channel detailing exercises you can do to help you get clear in your mind so that you can break trauma bonds, but there is no quick fix to break a trauma bond and the addiction it is attached to, just like there is no quick fix for quitting smoking or getting off heroin. There is no trick to it and no short cut. There is no way to avoid the work and be successful. You have to get very clear about what you want, get very clear about what is real and what is fantasy, and then you have make the decision every day multiple times a day not to engage in the behaviors that are perpetuating the addiction. It takes commitment, willpower and time, and it requires being uncomfortable for a while.
Trauma bonds can be extremely painful, especially because usually enmeshment with the narcissist or abuser has occurred, and separating from this person can feel like an amputation. This pain does fade over time, so it's very important to take this time and address the problem completely, including the original traumas that resulted in your predisposition to this type of situation in the first place. Otherwise you have not addressed the actual problem, only the result of the problem, and it will resurface again and again.
Sometimes people feel stuck in their mindset. They may feel like they have no choice. This is not the case. There is always a choice. Usually what we find when people say they feel they have no choice is that there are choices but they don't like any of them. For example, if someone feels they are trapped in a job. They are not really trapped because there is nothing stopping them from leaving, but obviously they don't like any of the options. It's easier - and sometimes feels safer - to stay in a situation you don't really like because it's familiar. The devil you know seems better than the devil you don't know.
Many times, in narcissistic relationships, people place the sole blame for their situation on the narcissist. It's certainly true that narcissists are 100% to blame for their own bad behavior. But they are not responsible for anyone else's actions, tempting as it is to blame them. We are all responsible for our own actions and even if it's embarrassing, we cannot be afraid to take this responsibility. If we are, we cannot change anything. Pathologically narcissistic people do not change or grow precisely because they refuse to take responsibility for anything and in doing so, they render themselves completely helpless in their own lives. You are not helpless. You can live intentionally. You can take responsibility for your own actions so that you can learn what you could have done differently and have a better, stronger future where you are not controlled by your past, your traumas, or your negative emotions. It's called soulwork, and you are all doing it right now. That's something narcissists will probably never be able to do.